Talking to a couple of other writers lately has me thinking about progression. I think about where I started, as a writer, and where I am today.
The funny thing is that it’s taken me years to believe that I am actually somewhat good at writing. This isn’t so much an ego-related thing; it’s more about skill and craft, and the ability to critically examine my own work. It took time to develop the ability to write well, but it also took even more time to learn how to recognize that worth and be able to deconstruct it and analyze it.
The problem with progression is that it’s gradual, of course, and there are so many levels to it. I had the pleasure of talking to a very promising young writer who I believe is producing work far beyond her years, and I was very pleased to see how she is certainly coming into her own. But I’m also aware of the fact that she’s not anywhere close to my level, and she has a long way to go. Critique of her writing is difficult because I want to encourage her progression in the art without stifling or discouraging her. She’s still at the stage where her work is her soul, laid bare, and to be told that it’s not the sparkling prose she wants it to be is going to hurt.
I know what that feels like.
Progression is not only about the ability to make good art. It’s also about becoming an artist (for authors are just as much artists as any), and finding oneself within art. Being a writer, as opposed to someone who just writes for fun, means letting go of a lot of baggage that comes with creativity and reaching a state of dispassion. But it also involves the creative flow, when you live inside a scene and feel what your characters feel and let it spin out onto the page effortlessly. You start out believing that you’re terrible, then you think you’re somewhat good, then you know that you’re terrible, then you learn how to be better… then you separate those two halves, and believe both at the same time whenever it’s appropriate.
You progress to the point where you know that your work has merit and people will want to read it, but it’s also rubbish and needs to be improved.
Progression is odd. It makes writers neurotic. The best part about it, though, is looking back and seeing how far you’ve come. There is so much pride in reading old work, and then reading new work, and seeing the difference. You did that. You got better.
Here’s to all of us on our journey, from the first word onwards.